Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Peter Principle? The Saturday Morning Ponderance

The definition of The Peter Principle from Wikipedia:

The Peter Principle is the principle that "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence." It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise which also introduced the "salutary science of Hierarchiology", "inadvertently founded" by Peter. It holds that in ahierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their "level of incompetence"), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. This principle can be modeled and has theoretical validity.[1] Peter's Corollary states that "in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties" and adds that "work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence".

I have seen this at work most of my life, but getting stuck in a hierarchy is not necessarily a competence issue. We've been at jobs where the boss doesn't know what they are doing, or in other endevors where those in charge are incompetent. True enough. 

But there are factors other than job specific competencies that can lead to stagnation and lack of career movement upward or moving upward in organizations that are not work related. The Peter Principle works best in theory in old school hierarchical command and control organizations where people work there a long time. Think again when the principle was written. Again, other factors can be at play.

Culture. What if you get a job at an organization where the culture doesn't jibe with your internal beliefs? This can lead to poor performance, but is not indicative of what the individual is capable of. 

Structure. What if the structure is that of very few opportunities to move up, and on top of it, the decisions to promote to a higher position aren't solely or primarily merit based? This is part of a cultural issue, but without opportunities, there is a discreet limit to what is possible for many people. Unless you fall in the group of favored political attributes, you will never get promoted. A case in point would be where my dad worked as a civil servant as a greenskeeper for Nassau County Parks and Recreation. There were several people that worked under him, yet when they paid the republican party a sum of money, they became his boss or were promoted to a position equal or greater in another group. This is very discouraging. I have also seen where protected minority groups are given preference. White males need not apply. I could go on. These promotions were not based on rational merit and the resources to compete are not available to everyone. Talk about discrimination. 

Downsizing/available jobs. What if a person gets downsized and the only available jobs are below his or her level of competence? They may have to take the job, and this leads to my next point. Perception. The guy that takes the lower job is seen as damaged goods or at least the perception may be that that is what he or she is capable of at best. This can lead to dulling of skills, depression, and hopelessness. Climbing back up the ladder after this is paying for the same real estate twice and then we enter the next variable: Age. Having to re-navigate the same career path takes time and then if you are over 40, age discrimination creeps in. From an objective standpoint, employers look at someone over 40 differently. One, by that age, they expect a high level of accomplishment, and a progressive increase in responsibilities and achievements. For the person that gets rightsized, or has to start over for whatever reason, there is a reverse karma at work: Well, they got shit on, so they must have done something to deserve it. 

My point here is that The Peter Principle is a little thin explaining all or even most possibilities. People generally are capable of much more than they bring to their jobs, and honestly, most of their knowledge and experience is untapped by any employer and this leads to one more point which is an extension of the last paragraph. If you are doing a particular job at an organization, the perception is, that is all you are capable of doing. It's a mindset that management at many organizations have, and even if you leave a company to go to another, the perception may follow you. The key is not to get stuck shoveling the same shit against the wall too long. I will also say the larger the organization, the more opportunities that exist. My wife works for a huge bank HQ'd out of california and they have so much diversity in types of positions that are open, that advancement and opportunity is not only good, but if you take advantage of it, very possible. Working for smaller organizations, non-profits and governmental agencies are much more limiting and possibly frustrating. 

So, if you still have the fire in the belly but are in a dead end, ultimately the impetus will be on you to make some change. The comfort zone may be that you have a short commute, the hours are convenient, or you like the community. All these are legitimate factors, but is it worth your sanity? People ofter give up the kingdom for a pittance, and for such things that I would call lazy thinking. If you think I am wrong, look at the co-morbidities that I often see in such people: Obesity, Alcoholism, Spousal Abuse, Depression, Suicide, and other behaviors that lead to negative results. Our spirit capability is zero sum. We cannot take an infinite amount of cognitive dissonance and not have it affect our well being. It will rear its ugly face somewhere. 

Anyway, that is my Saturday Morning Ponderance for this week. See you next time. 

Thank you for reading this blog. 


Anonymous said...

Half the harm that is done in this world Is due to people who want to feel important. - T. S. Eliot

The Right Guy said...

That and 2.25 will get me a ride on the subway.

Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.

Frank Leahy

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